Streaming and Cloud Music Services: Everything You Need to Know

Hands-On With Google Music Beta

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Streaming Your Music On the PC

The Music Beta player will then launch in your browser. For whatever reason, after I was done setting up my account, the player opened in three different windows in Firefox. Annoying.

The user interface is very straightforward. Your music is organized by "New and Recent" (which continuously refreshes as your library is added to the cloud), Songs, Artists, Albums, and Genres. Album art is displayed when it is available, but aesthetically, the user interface is nowhere near as pretty as iTunes or the even better looking Zune player. I did not like that the player doesn't display full-sized album art when you're in song playing mode.

There's a section called Auto Playlists which is broken into "Thumbs Up," "Recently Added," and "Free Songs." My library was still pretty barren (seriously folks, it takes a long time to add your library), but I found it interesting that, under "Thumbs Up," it listed a certain Milemarker song I had played 18 times on iTunes. I guess "Thumbs Up" automatically loads all the songs you listen to way too much. You can then add more songs to it by giving songs thumbs up (or down if you hate it!) in the Rating column when you're viewing your library by song.

Instant Mix Fail (Click to Zoom)
Instant Mix is Google's version of the iTunes Genius Playlist. It automatically creates a playlist of songs that go well together. Again, I didn't have enough music to create any real playlists so I'll have to revisit this feature once my whole library is uploaded.

Sound quality was pretty good, but when I tried to stream music using an open Wi-Fi connection at a local cafe, the weakness of a cloud-based player shined through: My songs stuttered frequently or wouldn't play when I wanted them to. My experience on my faster home connection was much more pleasant.

Streaming Music on Your Android Phone

To use Music Beta on your Android device, you'll have to download a new version of the Music app from the Android App Store. When you launch the app, you're taken to a welcome screen. It will have your Google Account listed at the bottom asking you if you want to link your Google account to Music player. Of course you do. Hit "done" and within seconds, your library is now on your phone! The user interface for the app is almost identical to that of the Web-based player. Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists and Genres are listed at the top of the app. You simply swipe your finger to the left or right to select how you want to browse your library.

The Android app is also much prettier than the web-based app. When you're in Now Playing, you get full-sized album art rather than just a measly thumbnail.

Next to each song, you'll see a downward facing arrow. Hit that and a menu will pop up asking if you want to play the song, make an instant mix from it, add it to a playlist, shop for the artist (which takes you to a Google Shopping page), more by artist (shows you other songs in your collection) and Search.

Search is kind of an interesting-yet-pointless feature. You can search for more about that particular artist via the Internet, within the original Music player (the one that you currently have on your phone), within the new music player (the one I'm currently writing about) or YouTube. Search is incredibly sensitive to how your music is tagged and labeled. If you have track numbers in your song titles, Search will include that track number when it looks for a YouTube video or Shopping listing. I found it pretty annoying to use and it rarely gave me the search results I wanted.

Unfortunately, I was unable to test the app on a Honeycomb-based tablet as my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was having issues logging into my Google account. I'll update this review once I solve my tablet issues.

Bottom Line

If you don't absolutely need a music store to go along with your music player, Google Music Beta is an excellent supplement to whatever other music programs you might be using. It is simple, lightweight and incredibly easy to use. The cloud-based player isn't the prettiest, but it is clean and a snap to navigate. Of course, Music Beta lacks an edge in the competition because it has no built-in store, but I predict Google will be making some content deals very shortly. The Music Manager software you have to download is lightweight so if you decide you don't like Music Beta, it won't be a burden to uninstall. If you're looking for an iTunes alternative or just curious about what Google brings to the table, I highly suggest you checking Music Beta out. So far, I've been really enjoying it. And right now, it is completely free so take advantage of that while you can.

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